Attempt to Block Tennessee Expansion Evokes Debate

What appeared to be a routine stay request by a neighborhood group in Pennsylvania of orders approving a Tennessee Pipeline expansion evoked an unusual debate among FERC commissioners last week over their responsibility to address pipeline safety issues.

In requesting the stay, Fawn Lake Forest Association of Pike County, PA, sought to block construction of a compressor station on an already-certificated expansion of Tennessee's 300-Line in the Northeast based on environmental and safety concerns [CP00-65-003]. The Commission rejected the group's bid for a stay, ruling that the project was environmentally acceptable, and that the association had offered "no reason to believe that the safety standards" for gas pipeline projects that are established by the Department of Transportation (DOT) "are insufficient."

Even so, new Commissioners Pat Wood III and Nora Brownell appeared to believe it is, or should be, the Commission's obligation to bring the neighborhood group's safety concerns about the Tennessee expansion to the attention of the DOT, which has jurisdiction over pipeline safety issues.

"Rather than complicate it with an elaborate set of regulatory interagency responses, let's assure ourselves that not only have they [Fawn Lake] raised issues that have been addressed, let's help them [get them] addressed" by the DOT's Office of Pipeline Safety, she said.

Chairman Curt Hebert directed staff to prepare a report on the issue. But he cautioned "I don't want...a report indicating that we're doing anything at this point. I certainly have great deference" to the 1995 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between FERC and DOT, which spelled out the agencies respective jurisdictions over pipeline projects. "I want to be very careful not to violate the MOU at this point when it comes to responsibility."

Wood, however, interpreted the MOU as being "pretty darn broad," permitting FERC or other agencies to screen safety issues to see if "there's anything that sticks to the screen."

The Commission earlier this year okayed Tennessee's 100,000 Dth/d expansion of its 300-Line to accommodate gas deliveries from the Stagecoach Storage Field Project, which was approved in a companion order. It also gave Tennessee the go-ahead to build a 24-mile lateral connecting the storage facility to its 300-Line.

The Fawn Lake association sought the stay of the 300-Line expansion pending judicial review of the Commission's orders.

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